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Remembering Princeton: III The Bird Man of Guyot Hall: The Late Charles Rogers
The Bird Man of Guyot Hall
I well remember in the 1950s going up four flights of stairs in Guyot Hall at Princeton University to visit with the Bird Man, Charles Rogers who looked much like George Washington, white hair and all. He was a very likable man in his 60's whose life was dedicated to the study of birds. His office contained hundreds of sliding drawers filled with various species of stuffed bird skins from all over the world.
He had become such an authority on birds that the American Museum of Natural History in New York asked him to create a special exhibit on the birds of Shakespeare. William Shakespeare mentions well over 160 species of birds in his numerous plays, and Mr. Rogers set up a diorama with all of those birds along with the lines from Macbeth or Hamlet or King Lear or Midsummer's Night Dream that mention individual species of British birds including rooks, geese, willy-wag-tails, cuckoos, and sky larks. Museum artists painted various British landscapes in the background.
But it was live birds that I was interested in and, of course, so too was Mr. Rogers, so much so that his wife, who studied insects as an entomologist, constantly harped at her husband's birds feeding in the backyard by eating her precious insects. What an interesting marriage! An ornithologist and an entomologist.
Mr. Rogers would think nothing of jamming on his car breaks to stop along the roadside to look through his binoculars at such and such a hawk flying overhead. One time his car got side-swiped by a fellow motorist who hadn't anticipated such erratic driving just ahead of him. When his wife took a look at his car all crushed in on one side, she asked him what on earth happened?
His reply was simply, "Crickets! Too many crickets got to it."
A friend and I decided to go with Mr. Rogers to upstate New Jersey to hike along the Appalachian Trail on Hawk Ridge to watch Cooper's hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks and goshawks ride the thermals by gliding along the edge of the wooded ridge line in search of small mammals like field mice. They were beautiful to watch in the silence of the forest, save for the sound in the valleys below of some woodsmen chopping logs sounding like drums along the Mohawk.
I think Mr. Rogers took as much delight in observing our joy at bird watching as he did in watching the birds himself. As I grew older and went off to college, I didn't see much of the old Bird Man of Guyot Hall, but I'd always get a Christmas card with a long note from him. And years later after my wife and I moved out to Wyoming to teach at the university there in Laramie, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a postcard from Mr. Rogers who had wondered why on earth would I ever move to Wyoming. He recalled traveling through the deserts of Wyoming years earlier and wrote:
Why the ding, ding, ding
would anyone sing, sing , sing
a song about old Wyoming?
I wished he would have come out to Laramie where we could have gone birding up in the beautiful Medicine Bow Mountains where white-crowned sparrows sang so beautifully among deep patches of summer snow.
National Geographic Backyard Guide
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Mountainous region of northern New Jersey
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© 2014 Richard Francis Fleck